Story By Deborah Welky | Photos By Denise Fleischman
Erin Townsend had three children, all under age four, when she went looking for a part-time job in 2008. Little did she know, that part-time job would change her life.
“I just wanted to work a couple of evenings a week, just to maintain my sanity,” she recalled.
Townsend approached Andy and Linda Maynard, co-owners of Tree’s Wings & Ribs, a popular restaurant at the south end of Royal Palm Blvd. She asked to be hired as a delivery driver. Unfortunately, no delivery positions were open, but the Maynards asked if she would like to try her hand as a server instead.
“I had never served before, but I said I’d give it a try,” Townsend said. “I loved it. I loved interacting with different people every day, having different conversations. It still tickles me.”
The job soon pivoted into a full-time position, and before too long, the Maynards approached Townsend about becoming the restaurant’s general manager.
“I was hesitant,” Townsend said. “I had absolutely no experience managing a restaurant. But they needed some help, and I do love a challenge. It was trial by fire, sink or swim. I accepted the job, and very quickly realized that I was in over my head.”
But the Maynards wanted Townsend to succeed. They sent her to Philadelphia to attend a restaurant management seminar headed up by John Taffer, star of the TV show “Bar Rescue.”
“It was really cool,” Townsend recalled. “Unlike his TV persona, John is a really sweet guy. When he found out I was from Tree’s Wings, he shouted it out to the whole banquet hall and said, ‘They have the best ribs!’ Turns out he was local then and had our ribs delivered all the time.”
Townsend is still learning every day, but that’s part of what makes the job fun. Designing menus, writing advertisements and creating signage was all new to her, but she embraced the tasks.
“I had to learn things as I went along,” Townsend said. “It was a crash course but, to me, even that was fun.”
Tree’s Wings has been a fixture in the western communities for 27 years. Townsend’s children are now 17, 16 and almost 15. Her eldest daughter is now a server at Tree’s Wings, following in mom’s footsteps.
“We serve typical American food — wings, ribs, mahi, salads, hamburgers and a ton of good appetizers,” Townsend said. “We stick to what we know, and we do it right.”
Located in the Royal Plaza just north of Southern Blvd., Tree’s Wings features a main dining room and two full bar areas. They also offer take-out, delivery and catering services.
“We’ve seen a shift in habits since the pandemic,” Townsend said. “It used to be 60 percent dine-in customers, and 40 percent split between delivery and take-out. These days, our take-out is closer to 60 percent, while dine-in is 30 percent and delivery is 10 percent.”
Townsend noted that Tree’s Wings has a sizable delivery area, including all of Royal Palm Beach and Wellington, parts of Loxahatchee and parts of West Palm Beach. And they make ordering catered platters as easy as they can.
“We have a whole menu of easy-to-order party trays,” Townsend said. “You can just call up and say, ‘Give me 100 wings, four racks of ribs and all the sides.’ When the Dave Matthews Band is in town each year, that’s just what they do. They call and say, ‘We’ve got 60 people. Be ready.’ Many of the fairgrounds performers stay at the Royal Inn across the street, and we become part of their tradition.”
Tree’s Wings also has its cast of regulars.
“Some people have been coming in for years,” Townsend said. “If we don’t know them by name, we certainly know them by their order.”
Townsend prides herself on giving customers what they want, even if it’s only the flat side of the wing or chicken that has been fried twice to achieve the crispiness they desire.
“We try to be accommodating,” she said. “We want people to be happy with their order. Our primary customer base is made up of hardworking, local people. They’re very loyal.”
Even without a culinary background, Townsend learned a lot growing up in The Acreage. “My mother, Mary Jo, is an amazing cook. I’m the middle of nine children and, on any given day, there could be 20 for dinner,” she said. “We’re super close-knit and every meal cooked is enough to feed an army.”
That said, her parents were slightly surprised at the turn Townsend’s life has taken.
“Managing a restaurant was never one of my goals. I wanted to be a teacher or something to do with nature,” Townsend said. “I was volunteering at the Grassy Waters nature preserve, planting trees. I think one of the reasons this place feels like home to me is that Andy and Linda are tremendously community minded. When we were short-staffed during the pandemic, I sometimes had to step in as a server, even though I was earning a salary as general manager. I told the Maynards that it didn’t seem fair, so I was going to donate my tips to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They matched me, dollar for dollar.”
Townsend said interacting with people is her favorite part of the job.
“I particularly like when they try to guess the secret recipe for our house dressing,” she said. “Our customers call it ‘the green stuff.’ It’s iconic. In addition to what we serve our customers, we sell it by the pint — 150 pints a week! We produce it every day, and it just flies out the door.”
While working at Tree’s Wings was once something to get Townsend out of the house, nowadays she can’t see her life without it. “I’m hoping to stay here until the day I retire,” she said.
To learn more about Tree’s Wings & Ribs, visit www.treeswingsandribs.com.